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The Humming 

I first saw it at the corner of Chartres and Ursuline streets. It was an 8-foot or so column, a funerary-looking urn, black and grooved. At the top of it was a spike that looked like it was waiting for the head of an infidel to be impaled there. Laura and I passed by it at first, thinking it to be an unfinished street light in the style of those ugly things that line the road to the airport. Then we did a double take. The thing hummed. We went back to look at it and it most definitely wasn't a streetlight. For one thing, it looked finished, and for another, it hummed constantly and vibrated.

We tried to put the best face on it. 'It must be some device for that free Internet the city promised us after Katrina," Laura said. 'Or maybe a giant vibrator." She's an optimist (sometimes).

'Looks more like an NSA/Homeland Security-type device to eavesdrop on the French Quarter to make sure nobody's plotting to kill Bush. You know that Lee Harvey Oswald used to live around here, don't you?"

She laughed. 'You're paranoid," she said, 'but it's not your fault. You grew up in Romania."

Later I ran into Nick, a friend of mine who lives in the Quarter. 'That thing at Chartres and Ursuline, what is it?" Nick had no idea. We went to look at it. It was still humming and looking like it was waiting for an impaled head. 'Definitely a communication device," said Nick. He added, 'It's probably for that free Internet they promised the city after the storm." I speculated that it might be a Formosan termite killer meant to warn those bugs to stay out of the Quarter. 'Ha-ha," laughed Nick, 'that's a good one. Putting the exterminators out of business!"

We left it at that. A few days later, I saw another one. This one was on Royal Street, right behind St. Louis Cathedral. You couldn't find a more obvious place. Everyone passes by. And there it was " a fat, ugly, grooved funerary urn humming like an electronic wasps' nest, with a black spike on top.

This time I wasn't going to just let it go. Many artists display their work by the fence behind the Cathedral, and this thing looked so evil it had to cut into their business. I asked one of the artists what the thing was. She said, 'It's the city of New Orleans selling itself bit by bit to corporations. It's a [cell phone] communication tower. And it hums!"

I was stunned. 'You mean this is a purely corporate for-profit chunk of solid humming evil that the city of New Orleans put here without asking anybody?"

She said that there were three of them in a five-block area of the Quarter. I had a horrible vision: I saw all of us New Orleanians eventually wearing these black colanders on our heads with spikes coming off the top like a Kaiser Wilhelm helmet. And we hummed. And worked for free for AT&T and Sprint.

'I can't believe it," I said to the artist. 'These things are uglier than those garbage cans they tried to make us get and finally gave up on. Plus they hum. We have to do something about this."

I could see that she was thinking of chopping them down like George Washington.

'How about we make some papier-mache heads of the AT&T and Sprint executives and the city bureaucrats who snuck these things on us, and impale them on the spikes?"

'For Mardi Gras!" she said happily.

Yup. Now that's a plan, my citizens. Get out the paste and glue and Google these people.

Andrei Codrescu's latest book is New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writing From the City (Algonquin Books).


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